The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Dudley Williams - A Trot Valley Boy

By Tootsie Cassell Pilson © 1984

Issue: June, 1984

dudley williamsDudley WilliamsOne lovely day not long ago, I made my way down Lover's Leap mountain, turned right at Hopkins' old store and headed up Trot Valley. I had called Dudley Williams for an interview and I was eager to get on with it, because I had been told he was a man of many skills. Dudley greeted me with a hearty laugh and said, "Ah, just come on in the back door. We use it most of the time." This suited me just fine and before I could say "scat", I was comfortably seated and made to feel right at home. In this homey atmosphere, I gathered pages of notes about this man and I would like to share them with you.

Here goes…

Dudley Williams father, J.P Williams was married three times and fathered 21 children in all. By his third wife, Tecoa, he had 16 children. This is the family Dudley grew up in.

Dudley told me..."I was born in a log house, with a frame structure built on, 78 years ago. This house was situated in the Trot Valley section of Patrick County, Virginia.

People living up the valley would pass by our house in a trot, on their way home, so Pa named this vicinity Trot Valley."

He also said, "Growing up in a family of 16 meant hard times and good times. We slept on straw ticks and under feather beds. We ate what was raised on the farm except for sugar and coffee. My mother cracked walnuts and sold the goodies to pay for what staples we had to buy. We only had wheat bread on Sundays, the rest of the week we ate corn bread.

Sometimes my mother would make buckwheat cakes. She would stack them a foot high before she started serving us, so she could keep our plate filled at all times.

Our shoes were hand made of hard leather by Simon Scott and we got only one pair a year. Mother knitted all the socks we wore.

On the farm we had horses, chickens and hogs. We usually kept four to six cows and we walked a mile to milk them and carried the milk back home. We planted corn on land so steep and rocky that we would dig a hole for the corn and find dirt elsewhere to cover it.

We were accused of being a mean bunch of boys," he said, "but we were just having fun. We would have squabbles with the boys in the neighborhood and after these fights, we would shake hands and remain friends."

When I asked about his schooling, he said, "I went to Pine School, a one room school in Trot Valley. I didn't go much because sometimes we only had school two or three months out of the year. I guess that's good because I never learned enough to know how to cheat anyone.

Pa operated a government still and made brandy. Back then people took their drink and went on about their business. I remember mother giving it to me in a spoon," he said.

When I asked, "What did you do for entertainment?", he said, "Most of our time was spent working and we were glad to get into bed. We did attend some dances and parties in neighbor's homes. We sometimes played horseshoes. We also went to corn shuckings. At these affairs whoever was having the shucking would put a gallon of brandy in the middle of the corn pile. The first one to get to it would get the first drink. Later all would join in." When I asked what happened when you found a red ear of corn he said, "After we finished that gallon, we couldn't tell the red from the white':

If I have left you, the reader, with the impression that this man was irresponsible due to his once in a while capers, think otherwise. In fact, he is a jack of all trades.

He met his wife, Bertha Mae Murphy while working in the coal fields in West Virginia. They moved back to Trot Valley and set up housekeeping here. They have raised a family of 10 living children and are quite a close knit family group.

Dudley has done carpentry work and farming. He also sawmilled for a few years. He told me, "I liked sawmilling. In fact, I have enjoyed most all of the work I have done. Back then, you could hire workers for 10 cents an hour, but my wife and children helped pack lumber on Saturdays. We saved $5.00 on a thousand [board feet] by doing our own work."

In his later years he has become quite skillful in woodworking. He has made a banjo and guitar for each of his 10 children and has sold some of them all over the United States. Because of their uniqueness and quality, the price of these run very high. He made most of his own tools and has bought a few. He also made his own patterns for these instruments and no two of them have the same tone.

When I asked, "What do you enjoy most?" He said, "I like to fish and I play music with the Trot Valley Band. We play for dances at the head of Rye Cove. I've also played at Chestnut Ridge. I play by ear, not by music."

He also said, "The best thing that ever happened to me was getting married': Laughingly he added, "I had to say that because my wife is sitting across the room with a crutch in her hand."

"I would like to be remembered for just being myself," he said. "I have tried to be a good neighbor and father to my children. When the children were growing up, they respected us. When we spoke, they obeyed. We hardly ever used a switch. Today, they visit often and we have lots of fun playing horseshoes and shooting the breeze. We have 10 living children, 25 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren and we enjoy them all.

I am satisfied to take life as it comes", he said. "I have not traveled much. I enjoy the country atmosphere and people here in Patrick County. I've always tried to practice the golden rule. I try to treat others like I would like to be treated. I have never had any trouble in getting along with my neighbors."

What else could I possibly say?

Laughable, lovable Dudley Williams, thanks to you for making this a lovely day for me.